Singapore’s Young Writers Festival 2018: My Experience

This year’s ALL IN! Young Writers Festival was held at Scape* from 16th to 18th March. I attended the full day’s event on the 17th as well as two workshops, Copyediting Workshop: Beyond the Basics of Content and Pitching Your Work Out There.

Not having been to such an event before, I did not expect to see such large throngs of secondary school students. Nevertheless, the talks and workshops were pitched at a palatable level for people of all ages. It was also nostalgic to be amongst young budding writers around the age where I myself first fell in love with literature and started writing (I started writing poetry, as well as read the novels that changed my mind about literature at 15). It was heartening to see youngsters enthusiastic about the arts.

With the majority of the attendees being from that age group, the talks about Singapore literature and the like were naturally maxed-out, while the talks about PR and other such topics had thinner crowds.

The highlights of the event for me were the two workshops, the lunch time activities as well as the talk “Singaporean Identity in Contemporary Fiction”.

To be honest, I did not mean to attend that talk (LOL OOPS). Thinking it was another session, I got really confused when the speakers started discussing Singapore literature. However, I really got quite a lot out of it. They were discussing how local authors feel less of a pressure now to include a checklist of ‘Singaporean things’ in their writings eg. The AYE (a local highway), the racial riots etc. However, the speakers, local authors themselves, find that overseas publishers demand an ‘Oriental flavor’ from Asian writers (ironic, considering my previous post on Orientalism and Eastern packaging). That being said, local authors do have a lot more breathing room now as compared to, say, 10 years ago to write about topics not related, or not directly related, to Singapore.

Having grown up with an idea that the hallmarks of ‘local authors’ are Catherine Lim, the poetry of Edwin Thumboo, Alvin Pang and the like, this was very pleasant news to me, to say the least. It can be rather stifling, as a young writer in Singapore, to grow up thinking that all literature produced on local soil is only considered legitimate if they contain overt local branding. Of course, as I did not take the initiative to seek out alternatives on my own, the carefully curated reading lists handed out in my literature classes offered me only works that my teachers and professors had deemed appropriate for their modules. Nevertheless, I had begun to wonder if content like what I was writing, am writing, would ever have reception in Singapore.

I am proud, as an arts, especially literature, enthusiast, to say that over the past decade, Singapore’s arts scene has blossomed into a more varied, accepting landscape. Of course, we as a nation might never outgrow the tendency towards self-recognition and awareness in writing– the author almost always brings his himself and everything consisting it, into his works.

The workshops were events I don’t regret paying for. The copy-editing workshop held by Samantha De Silva had hands-on, on-the-spot writing and copyediting activities. The publishing workshop, held by Balli Kaur Jaswal (Author of Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows) was packed with super helpful and relevant information on the different styles and avenues for publishing. The two ladies were funny, generous and engaging. In the second workshop, the buzz was almost palpable. Almost everyone there was working on a manuscript, and of course, that requires a certain level of dedication and fervour for writing, traits that certainly manifested in our interactions with each other.

Lastly, during one of the breaks, I went for their book swap, where I got my hands on Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (SCORE!). Then at a booth, I met Jon Grisham, and one of the books on sale was a book he himself wrote: We Rose Up Slowly (See picture). After chatting for a bit we settled on him gifting me his personal copy in exchange for USD$6 (Don’t ask). He was a great, friendly guy, and you can check out his blog at igloomelts.com.

I have sorely missed the buzz of being in a room full of people charged with a compatible measure of passion for the arts and literature. I simply adored being a literature major, and this festival reminded me why. It also reminded me that pursuing the arts is not something reserved for a specific time and place: a classroom; when we are in school. It is an honor we all can partake in, no matter what ‘stage’ of life we are in. I am glad and proud to witness the evolution of our local literature, young as it is and will be looking for more opportunities to partake in it, be it through workshops or otherwise.

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